Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Dear Dad
American Conservatory Theatre
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule


Louis Anderson
Photo Courtesy of American Conservatory Theatre
"I don't get it." This is comedian/actor/performer Louie Anderson's internal reaction when, as a child, he meets people who like his father. As Anderson presents him, who would? "He's a monster!" Anderson shouts, wondering why those outside his family can't see through layers of charm to the wounded alcoholic who belittles the 10th of his 11 children with constant cries of "lard ass!" (Anderson notes that by sixth grade he already weighed 180 pounds) and the generally abusive behavior. The rest of the world doesn't see his binge drinking, or experience the aftermath when, after hauling his two youngest children along to the Moose lodge for a bender that lasts until closing time, the trip home ends with their car driven into the woods near the Andersons' Minnesota home.

The old saw that comedy is "tragedy, plus time" is clearly on display in this new solo show premiering at ACT's Strand Theater in a brief (only five performances) run. Anderson has made a long career with self-deprecating jokes about his weight (his very first, delivered at an open mic night?: "I can't stay long—I'm between meals.") and messed-up family, and a friendly, homespun charm that served him well as host of "Family Feud" and creator/producer of an animated Fox hit from the '90s, "Life with Louie".

His hip cred has been given a huge boost in the past couple of years, due to his Emmy-winning role on Zach Galifianakis's cult hit "Baskets," in which he plays Christine Baskets, the lead character's mother.

Dear Dad is based on the book of the same name, Anderson's epistolary memoir in which he deals with the demons of his childhood through a series of letters to his long-deceased father. The 90-minute performance moves more or less smoothly between the tragic elements of Anderson's childhood and the comedy he created as a way of dealing with it.

Anderson is generally unafraid of wielding his comic sword at his family ("Everybody who looks like my mom is fat, everybody who looks like my dad is drunk.") but is somewhat less than willing to turn his critical eye inward much deeper than the fat jokes that began his career. He's clearly not shy about being confessional, fessing up to a teenage career as a fence for stolen goods, but there's very little insight into how Anderson the adult has dealt with the wounds inflicted upon him by his demon of a father. We learn that he has come through, as he happily shows us his psychic scars, but there's no true emotional payoff other than a neatly wrapped package of forgiveness for his father's failings, and appreciation for his mother's love—despite her clearly enabling behavior. (His role on "Baskets" is based in large part on her, and Anderson takes great pleasure in being able to honor his mother by portraying her in the guise of a fictional character.)

Anderson's stand-up chops are put to good use here, but some of the best bits exhibit a practiced rhythm that is vaguely out of synch with the rest of the material. It's perfectly natural—I imagine he's delivered some of the lines hundreds of times—but it prevents the show itself from delivering the cohesion it desperately needs.

Dear Dad plays through January 14, 2018, at ACT's Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets range from $25-$55, and are available at www.act-sf.org.


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